More of Me
May 17, 2021 § Leave a comment
2021 called for a change. Less short-term vision, more “what do I want to be doing to feel I’m contributing?” thinking. Less drinking, more movement. Less feeling stuck and isolated, more freedom (yeah, I’m not the only one feeling that). Less paying someone’s rent and more home ownership.
Wait, hold on a minute. We actually already own two homes. So the paying rent/home ownership reference is really an analogy (I use those a lot, you’ll come to see). But it’s an analogy I feel in my bones, and this is what I mean by it: I work for someone else’s 5-year plan. I use my skills—whatever those may be—to further an objective that is not my own. Yes, okay, I get it. I’m getting paid so I can pay my own mortgages, feed my own dogs and cats, have the funds to live a good life. That right there is not a bad objective. In fact it’s a pretty good exchange that folks have been taking part in for millennia.
But it’s an exchange that is depleting me. I don’t know how else to say it. It’s like I’m a rain barrel and I have a slow leak and there’s no rain in sight to fill me up. And it’s not even as if that leaking water is nurturing anything other than whatever is growing near it. Dripping to depletion. I don’t … it’s not … see? No other words for it. I’m slowly emptying. Ah! There are some good words for it. Well, that’s somethin’.
What are those skills I use to fill another’s vision? I’m a writer. How I went from being a science nerd to a writer in the horticultural business—well, that’s a long story. I’m sure I will cover that topic someday. But for now, know two things: a) I’m in a field I never ever intended to be in – omg, for the last 25 years! and b) I’m actually pretty darn good at it, the writing thing. I’m well-known and well-respected in the commercial horticultural field. In fact I’m so good at it I’ve fooled most of the people most of the time into believing this is actually what I love to do and will be doing for the rest of my life.
Don’t get me wrong. I am grateful I get paid to write. I think about all those writers who have this yearning to write and publish and end up penning the police beat in the local paper. I’m truly blessed to have been employed as a writer because I know so many people have tried and could not make the money thing work. Not that I get paid a lot. I don’t. Not with this field.
So, I made a change. I had a talk with my boss and I said something along the lines of, “At the end of my life when I think back on what I want to be known for, it’s not this.” Ballsy, right? But when that feeling is with you for … for decades … when you decide to voice it, you voice it. No trouble finding the words that time, nossir.
Did I quit my job? Going into Year 2 of Pandemic Times? No. Not a good idea. I
dropped let go of the writing that absolutely didn’t contribute to my feelings of self-worth and impact. I would still write for them, yes. It turns out that I am writing just two fewer pieces per month out of a total of eight or nine. No more magazine articles, so no more writing about new trends in decorative pots or how to upgrade your store’s POS system. And I’m also no longer writing my monthly editorial column. Not that I didn’t like writing it. I thought my columns were one of my strongest styles. Until I got to the end and had to figure out how to connect all the emotions and sentiments I developed in the previous 500 words to … horticultural retail objectives. And that’s where I’d die each month. That is where the rain barrel let loose through its spigot and I’d have to scramble emotionally to shut that down. At that moment in my column, that’s where my writing became not my own and I would lose myself. The one thing I was feeling really good about, taken from me.
Not having the mental weight of writing those two pieces each month freed my spirit. I literally felt lighter. I felt more joyful in the other six pieces I was still writing for them each month. Did I love love love writing for them now? Love is a strong word. I didn’t hate it and did find some additional enjoyment.
Am I writing more of my own, more for my own now? Funny you should ask. Until I sat down just now and wrote the words “2021 called for a change,” I had written just two short … let’s call them poems. Right? Just two. And it’s been two months since this change in job responsibility has taken place. What gives?
“But first, coffee.”
You’ve seen the shirt, the meme, the signs in front of shops with that written truth. And it is truth. You have a whole day’s worth of big plans ahead. You’re going to change the world! But first, let me prioritize my coffee. I am not complete until and unless coffee is consumed. Once I have my cuppa, I’m good to carry on.
For the past two months, I’ve been putting coffee in front of writing time. No, not actual coffee. I’m putting the yard work in front of writing. I’m prioritizing installing an organic lawn, planting my veg garden, getting the front door painted, making lists of what projects need to be completed while the weather is good. Now that I have the time, let me complete all these other things rather than use that now-freed time to do what I had originally intended with it.
Oh, and when you decide to prioritize what you would like to be most remembered for, do not start watching a new British crime drama. Lovely show, Shetland, but I need to backburner you.
Remember this, Ellen: But first, writing.
(Actually and truthfully, letting the dogs out to pee is first, followed by coffee and then a run with Sammie to tire out the little Goat Pony for a few hours. And then the writing. Let’s be realistic.)
This coming Saturday—five days from now—is when my editor’s column would have been published digitally. It’s the first time in nearly 13 years that I will not have published an edition of this piece. When I wrote my very last column, I kinda sorta said goodbye to my readers and told them I wasn’t gone forever, but would be found in the other usual things I write for the company. What I didn’t do was tell my mother of my plans. She actually really loves to read that column. It’s the only thing of mine that she reads. And when she read my departing column … oh, the concern she expressed in an email (she would never think to call me without prearranging a time). What was I going to do for money? What would I do with my time? Because she doesn’t receive/read my other six items I write for the company (nor does she realize all of the other freelance gigs I have), she thought I was thoroughly unemployed. Her concern was sweet. Bless her heart.
A good five days after she read my last editorial and wrote me that concerned email, Mom sent me a message via my work email. It read, “I will miss your articles, Ellen. I loved reading them. Love, Mom.”
Sweet, right? Yeah, that was sweet. Something she’s not known for, being sweet. She had to search for that address to email me separately. She wanted me to know she loved and appreciated my work. Her words made me stop for a moment. Well, should I? Should I cease writing those columns? Because she likes them and she’ll be disappointed.
It was just a thought for the moment, though. I had felt the weight of that writing lift weeks earlier and I would not go back to it. I could not not write for myself again. Other forms of writing—newsletters, blog content—sure. But not essay and article form. No one and no industry not of my choosing can claim my interest and my words in that manner again.
I was recently listening to an episode of Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us podcast. She had had musicians Gina Chavez and Carrie Rodriguez on her show. Accomplished Latinx musicians on their own, they had teamed up to write and record the music that accompanies Brene’s podcast. One of the ladies—I can’t remember now if it was Gina or Carrie—was talking about what I’ll call her origin story when it came to singing and songwriting. She had been for years performing with others and on her own, but … something was missing, something wasn’t quite right. She was doing well, but she sensed she wasn’t performing her music. I even stopped the car to jot down what I believe she said about it: “There was so much of me missing in my music.”
She was eventually introduced to the music of her great aunt—apparently a woman who was a well-known Mexican singer back in her day. The great aunt sang a particular style of Mexican folk music. That music, that was her music. That was the music that gave her fulfillment when she performed. No more of what wasn’t her. She’d sing and write the music that felt authentic to her.
I stopped the car to write down the gist of her statement but I wrote it this way: “There is so much of me missing in my writing.” Those are my words. Those words are the ones that come pretty darn close to filling in for the words I was at a loss for earlier. There is so much of me missing in my writing. I’ve tried writing a memoir. I began a novel. I do write short … let’s call them poems. I believe my editorial columns came closest to the writing that I can claim is mine. But not having it truly be mine … gosh, that made me ache.
So I am going to write more, write more of me. Here. It’ll be rough and raw and maybe uncomfortable. That’s me, though. And I wouldn’t want to be anyone else. Not anymore. Not even for my mom.
I may even print out some of this writing and mail it to her. I think she’d like that. She may email me to let me know.
Asking the Right Question
October 29, 2013 § Leave a comment
Five months ago I sat myself down in my picture window, propped up my feet, and allowed myself to think. “What is it I want to do with my life?” is usually how my internal conversations begin, and so it was this time around.
That line of questioning quickly stopped. Or, I should say, I steered myself from it. Why? Because I’ve asked myself that question over and over and over … and I’m still asking, with no resolution.
Maybe, I thought, I’m asking the wrong question.
The “What is it I want to do with my life?” posit typically turns into “What should I be doing?,” “What am I supposed to be doing?” and “What are my skill sets?” And then, of course, the small pebble of a question turns into a conglomerate rock of a boulder that quickly rolls downhill and out of control.
So I sat and thought a bit more. And I realized these questions I have been asking of myself are all filed under the category of “occupation.” Is that truly the question I wanted to explore? No, let’s not go that route this time, I thought. Because the answer to that question will follow as a result from a different question. A question I haven’t yet asked. The real question I need to ask myself.
The fact that I hadn’t found the right answer because I had been asking the wrong question was a bit of a window cleaning moment for me. By that I mean once I realized I’ve been asking the wrong question, I was able to wipe it away from the glass and have a clear vision of what lay beyond that distraction. I saw the question, the real question clearly. And because I saw this question clearly, the answer was right there with it.
The question isn’t what is it I want to do, but this: Who am I?
I listen. I see. I sense. I feel. And I write. Who I am is someone who searches, gathers and shares through the written word. It’s who I am. It’s what I do. It’s what fills me.
I’m already a writer by trade, so I’m on the right track. So why then am I still asking these questions? Perhaps I’m not writing what’s in my heart. Perhaps. Writing what’s in the heart—that’s what I should be doing. That’s what I am meant to do with my life.
That day five months ago I jotted a note to myself. It’s simply this:
There are two things I have passion for, one thing I know about more than the average person, and one thing I do really well. There’s a way to feel fulfilled and a way to feel joy with all of them.
Passion, knowledge and skill. Those three together are the recipe for happiness. For my happiness anyway. I have so much passion for yoga, and not just my own practice. Yoga is such a gift—a gift that I receive over and over, and one that I hope to give just as much. I’m also passionate about good food and eating well, and I know more than the average person about growing and using that food. That has always been a part of my life but has just now started to shine through. Sharing this is something I so love to do.
That missing question and its answer—Who am I?—can tie my passions, my knowledge and my abilities together. Since that time I sat in my window five months ago, I’ve slowly been shaping a new direction with these revelations in mind. And I’m there, or nearly so. I have made something to share with you.
In a few days, after tying up some loose ends, I’ll share with you my new endeavor. I am so thankful to be able to give this to you. In the meantime, if you feel a call to sit in a window and think, follow that feeling. Something extraordinary may come from it.
30 Things I Learned After 30 Days On a Yoga Mat
October 4, 2013 § 2 Comments
I presented a challenge to myself. I would practice yoga each day during the month of September. That’s 30 straight days in a studio with an instructor. None of this rolling out my mat for 20 minutes while my cats nudge my forehead in down dog. For me now, a home practice isn’t protected time and it certainly isn’t protect space if my cats have any say in the matter. No, this would be legit and official practice.
I didn’t do it for a free T-shirt. I didn’t do it to get in some serious workouts. The “exercise” aspect of yoga isn’t why I practice, and free clothing certainly isn’t an incentive for me. After nearly two years of practicing I challenged myself, in a sense, to fully realize yoga. And that, to me, is to see inside myself. To have things bubble to the surface and let them roll around there for me to see. To observe how I react to myself, my body, my mind’s buried and rushed-over thoughts that arise with the buoyancy of breath. Living life on the surface doesn’t serve me anymore. It’s time to move in and learn what’s there.
Thirty days doesn’t make me an enlightened yogini, but it did gave me the space to learn a few things—definitely about myself but also about those who occupied the space around me. Here is what I bring home with me:
- Breathe in—fully.
- I have everything I need with me now. No matter where or when that is, I have all I need. Work with them.
- I bail. Oh, I don’t mean I bail out on a yoga pose that we’ve been holding for ages. I breathe through it, I hold it and let myself drop in and savor all those dirty things you learn about yourself when you’re confronted with, well, yourself. But because I don’t bail out of the pose, I recognize that I bail out of other things when I’m off my mat. For example, and I’m not kidding, I bailed out of the end of that last sentence and left it for two days. I get to a point—could be a sentence, could be a project, could be a relationship, whatever—where I’m doing well, or on the cusp of doing well, or on the cusp of doing something and I just don’t touch it. Sometimes never to return, sometimes just for a few days. Sitting through and working through the hard part—getting over that point, that’s where the joy is. I deny myself that.
- I am no big deal. I can do a crow, who cares? Doesn’t make me any more or less than the person on the mat next to me. I’m doing what I’m doing for me today. I’m good with that. That’s an important thing to take off my mat with me.
- Everything is easy. The stuff that’s valuable is hard. Want less. Value more.
- Doesn’t matter how many signs you put up—some people still aren’t gonna take off their shoes.
- My body holds everything that has ever happened to it, even if my mind has lost hold of it. The fall down the barn stairs could account for my persistent shoulder tweekiness. The kamikaze banana-seat bicycle spills might be why my knee squeaks walking up the stairs. And it’s emotional, too. What explains why I bolt from my office chair just as I’m about to write something great? Hmmm…
- If I have to ask where I am on my mat, I need to come back to my breath. The trigger of asking myself gets me there. Funny how that works.
- Tell me you did not just check your phone while the instructor was explaining something. Nobody’s got time for that. Put the phone in your bag, with the ringer and vibrate both switched off, and chuck it in the back of the room. I’m not gonna thank you because I shouldn’t have to ask.
10. All of life can be categorized into two piles: suffering and the end of suffering. You get to do the sorting of it all.
11. I don’t know why the other people in class are here. But they showed up and I respect them for taking the time for themselves. So many of us don’t.
12. That space where you just let go of it all and you just are … man, it’s totally worth everything to be there.
13. Hot yoga isn’t so bad if you’re not packed in mat to mat and you’re given time to set yourself into a pose. In fact, I’m getting to really like it, sweaty mat and all.
14. Respect the instructor. You got to choose whether or not you came to class but they didn’t get the choice. You don’t know what’s going on in his or her life at that moment. But they’ve shown up for you. Respect.
15. Yoga is like love. There’s the passion, the fire, the messiness of it. But the dishes still need to be done and the bills need to be paid. One is fleeting, and one is forever.
16. You don’t have to follow each cue. Do what you need for that day. All within your ability, of course, and still following #15. The mat is yours.
17. Speaking of the mat being your own—please don’t step on mine.
18. I’m a different person from before. And not different from who I was in August. Everything changes and everyone changes and no one has control over it. I didn’t used to be okay with that. Letting go of the not liking change has freed me to focus on other things that I know are in my control.
19. I have a serious lack of confidence. Not as badly as I used to, thank goodness. I need to just cut that shit out.
20. To make up for #19, I sometimes blather on about stuff I know nothing about or make non-factually based statements. Again, cut that shit out.
21. We are all beautiful and all very odd looking all at the same time. And we’re all very different. I’m getting to like that aspect of the human animal more and more.
22. Yin yoga is like a chocolate and whipped cream parfait.
23. Sometimes a rolled-up mat stuck in your gut can be a very comforting feeling. No, really.
24. Thirty days is a long time only after you start counting down to the end.
25. There will be a parade for me the day I can swing my leg behind my head. Not really. But I have promised myself ice cream.
26. I’m a lot stronger than I thought I could be.
27. Meditation is a necessity. Imagine if we all took a few minutes each day to just sit with ourselves to clear the mind. We’d have so much more understanding of each other.
28. We have our own deal going on. And it’s comforting to know that everyone has their own stuff they are dealing with, too. We’re not alone. Again, another reason to have more understanding for each other.
29. I can do this.
30. Breathe out.
In a week I begin a long-awaited 200-hour yoga teacher training program. That’s another reason I challenged myself to 30 straight days of yoga, to sort through some feelings and anxieties before the real training began. Call it a much-needed emotional survey of my state of being. And you know what I learned? I can do this. I’m ready.
Hiking Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary
July 20, 2011 § Leave a comment
It’s been a long, long spring and summer. All work and no play makes Dainty a very sad and tense Dot. Good thing we scheduled vacation for this week.
We typically vacation in Provincetown and spend the whole time lying low—as in low on a beach towel. But, as crazy as this is gonna sound, being on a beach towel soaking up the sun can be a bit boring after awhile. Our solution for that is taking a hike.
This time around, we headed to Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. It’s a Mass. Audubon sanctuary on the western edge of the Cape Cod forearm, right on Wellfleet Harbor. Lots of marsh grass and sandy soil, lots of Cape woodland, lots of birds and wildlife, so bring a camera. And there’s lots of green head flies and sand flies, so arm yourself with repellent and you’ll be fine. There are … let’s see … close to 4-5 miles of hiking trails, so pack a light lunch and enjoy it while watching the shore birds at the end of the boardwalk.
The folks at Mass. Audubon must have gotten some inspiration of Groupon deals, because when we arrived at the nature center they were offering a “half-price sale” on membership. $10 would have gotten the two of us into the sanctuary for the day. For just $29, we could have a year-long family membership that would give us free admission to the 50 Mass. Audubon Wildlife Sanctuaries throughout the state. And, it feels pretty terrific to support an organization that is protecting our state’s natural habitat.
Somewhere along this hike my eye decided to focus on the little things nature had to offer. Except for a couple of spectacular angiosperms, I mainly captured slime molds, lichen, fungi and the occasional gymnosperm. (Look at me, throwing around fancy botanical references. I feel like I’m in college again!) The vistas at Wellfleet are beautiful, but some of the coolest things are underfoot.
Work-Life Balance Off Kilter
June 12, 2011 § Leave a comment
I’m throwing a pity party for myself. Bear with me.
My plate is full. Dripping gravy off the side, actually. A sample of what I have going on:
- I’m an editor for a trade magazine. Full time. Travel, writing, managing freelancers and editorial schedules and advertising opps, putting out (a kickass) weekly enewsletter, being a resource 24/7 for my industry, etc etc.
- I am a paid blogger, weekly posts.
- I put in about 16 hours a week managing a series of gardens. Seasonal, but still.
- I’m also a paid podcaster. Twice a month and I’m just the color commentator. But still, it’s about scheduling.
That’s the paid stuff, as meager as it is. On top of that:
- I volunteer for my local garden tour – on the committee, actually.
- I’m on my community garden’s board of directors.
- I’m a die-hard Red Sox fan. That’s three hours a day right there. I know, that’s not a good excuse, but still.
- I run and bake and cook, or at least I try to. When I have the time.
And all I really want to do is that last line. The running and baking and cooking. All I want to do is Dainty.
Get over it, we’re all in the same boat, right? I know that, but why? Because all the work gets us more money which gets us more stuff? That may be true for some people, but not I. My portion of the spoils pays for half the mortgage and monthly bills, and self-employment income tax—that’s about it. So, it’s not about the money. Okay, so maybe it’s about paying the mortgage—banks do like to get paid. But I’m not doing this for the money.
If I’m not doing it for the fortune, it must be for the fame. Ha! Okay, so, when I travel on business, people I don’t even know do come up to me and talk to me like we’re great friends. And that’s only because I appear in their inboxes weekly and mailboxes monthly and Facebook feeds randomly. Is that fame? Nope. It’s kinda nice, but still.
Then I must do it because it’s all easy, right? Wrong. On my daily to-do list, there is at least one thing (who am I kidding? Three things!) that just doesn’t happen. Even remotely. I have so much going on, I can give none of them the quality and respect due to them. Oh boy, and does that stink. My father the farmer, god love him, is and was always saying, “good enough.” The weed-choked garden was good enough. The produce with spots going into the bag for sale, good enough; the plowing job, good enough; the barn in need of repair, good enough. His health, his family, always just good enough. Dear lord, it’s happening to me. Just in order to get it done—and good enough—to move on to the next.
Why am I doing it, then?
That’s a very good question. One I’ve been asking myself a lot lately.